28 December 2019

The need for post processing

It's almost 2020 and I was thinking about a post telling a bit about the past year. But the year is not over yet, so I thought I might first slip in a post about the need for post processing. I think that in many cases, a photo needs that post processing. The purist reading this will now condemn me to an eternal life in pain, although I believe many photographers do post process the photos they take. Not nec essarily because they like it, but because it is needed. Let me explain this need with the following photo.

RAW image straight out of camera

What's wrong there?

The first and most obvious would of course be the flatness of the photo. When you shoot JPG, the camera adds contrast, saturation and in general post processes the image for you. When you shoot RAW, the camera does not do that for you and you should do that yourself. There is also software like Photolemur that will do that for you. Or Topaz software, or Adobe's Lightroom. And others that I have forgotten.

But besides this flatness, there are a few other things. In my previous blog post I already mentioned getting rid of useless things. They are here as well: those lightpoles on the left and right. The image is too dark. The sky is great for holidays and while this was on my holiday, it is not great for my photo. The monument does not get enough attention. The boring area at the front.
Some of these I could have handled while being there and shooting the photo. I could hav zoomed in a bit more and skip that boring part at the start. I could have had a wider aperture or slower shutter speed to have a photo with more exposure.

There is also a thing called taste. I make photos for myself, I want them to look how I like them. In photography this is by most people called their style. Unfortunately for me, I am still unsure about my style, so avoid calling anything my style for now, but I do know what I like. And regrettably, this is not the thing I really like.

So there you have in my opinion the three parts for post processing:
  1. The rudimentary addition of contrast, highlights and saturation to remove the flatness of a RAW image
  2. Removing imperfections that were either not noticed, or were unavoidable when the photo was made
  3. Making the photo more according to the asthetics of the photographer
Be aware that specifically the last point is a point of debate. How far are you allowed to change a photo? The answer is in my opinion simple: as far as you want, as it is your photo. Of course, if you're a photo journalist, this is a different position, than that of the mere hobbyist.

Anyway, that brings us to the next photo.
Image after post processing

What's better here?

The first remark should be that better is subjective in most of the alterartions here. Although I think that some of them will be agreed on by a majority of people. For a full view of the second photo, you can find it here on SmugMug. You might want to open that to see a bit better what I am talking about below this.


To get rid of the boring foreground and the first two lightposts, I cropped the photo, so that is simply removed. The reason for the boring background was that I actually made the photo with the idea of showing also the square in front of the monument. While looking afterwards, I simply felt it boring and not adding to the photo. So, I could have partly done this on site, but at that time, I was thinking differently. Besides cropping, I did also straighten the photo, as it was not level.


Also done was the removal of the in my opinion large distractions of the remaining two lightposts. That stuff is not too hard in Photoshop. Just don't forget to remove the shadows of them as well, or it will look pretty silly. By the way, I am using Adobe's photography subscription. For about 12 euro you get to use Lightroom and Photoshop. There are many other photo editors, but these are the most popular at the moment and in my opinion worth the money. If you're on a tight budget, there are also photo editors that you buy and don't need a subscription for, like Luminar, Topaz Studio or ON1. I actually have the first two and tried the third one, but found I liked the way Lightroom/Photoshop worked better. There are also free programs, as RawTherapee or DarkTable. I have tried these two as well, with the same result as above. But I suggest to give them a try and see for yourself.
Another distraction were the two stone plates near the stairway. I am almost certain there is very interesting text on them, but for my photo, they had to go.
While I could have kept the first two lightposts out of the photo by zooming in, I do not see any possible way of keeping the two stone plates or the further lightposts out of the photo while shooting. Getting rid of those did definitely need post processing.

Blue sky

As I mentioned before, a clear blue sky is great on holidays. But on photos it makes a rather dull impression. In this case, I found the sky to deep blue. I like deep, darker colors, but I did not want to have that in the sky. I needed a bit brighter to set it more off from the hills. So, a small change of hue and saturation was made. Then I replaced the sky with one having clouds. Wel, I did not really replace it, I blended the new sky with clouds in. Here it was pretty useful that the sky was such a monotone color, easily selected in Photoshop and not much need to finetune that selection.
This sky adjustment is certainly a matter of taste, so not everyone will like it or feel the need to do that. Even though I would say: for contrast with the statue you definitely need that lighter sky.

Color and luminosity adjustments

For these curves are heavily used in Photoshop. There is also a tone curve in Lightroom, with the same effect. That however is a global adjustment. While I use curves a lot for local adjustments as well. Let's just list the used curves:
  1. In this photo, globally the photo was darkened using curves. This also adds saturation. I like the more saturated colors, so it's often seen on my photos.
  2. Also very noticable, the lightening of the statue. Needed to have it attract a bit more attention.
  3. Raising contrast on the years under the eagles and the text Napoleon on the stairway.
  4. These last two were also brightened using yet another curve adjustment.
  5. I wanted to darken the bottom part of the photo, so another local curve adjustment, with a gradient as a mask.
  6. I wanted to make the bottom part also warmer, so yet another curve adjustment, raising red and lowering blue.
  7. As during global editing the white balance was already made warmer and the global darkening added more saturation, the monument, stairs and eagles were becoming too warm in tone, so a curve was added to lower red and raise blue for these parts.
  8. The monument and stairs needed to be brightened to capture the eye more, so yet another local adjustment, brightening those areas.The above brightening made some of the highlights on the eagles and stairway too much, so another local curve adjustment to tune that down.
  9. I mentioned the photo was too dark, specifically in the trees. While you see JPG results now, keep in mind it was shot in RAW. A JPG has 8 bits for each of the three primary colors red, green, blue. That gives a JPG 255 values for each color. My RAW photo has 14 bits for each of them, so what may seem black, might actually contain a lot of color values still. As this gives 16384 values for each color (this alone makes it worth shooting RAW!). A curve adjustment opening up the shadows for the trees worked miracles there.
  10. The reds were becoming pretty strong, mostly at the bottom part. So I had to tone them down at certain places, like the skin of people (many looked sunburned) and on the red clothing as these looked like firetrucks.

Dodging and burning

I finished the photo with a little bit of dodging (brightening) some highlights. And by burning (darkening) the sides and mainly corners of the photo. Now we are at the point that I would say I like the photo. Besides the removals and the addition tom the sky, the photo is the same in the sense that all that you see was there when I took the photo. But I don't think anyone can deny that the mood, the intensity of the two photos are completely different. Just as I doubt that anyone can deny the need for post processing a RAW photo. At least for this RAW photo.😀

With that, I am at the end of my last post in 2019. So I wish everyone the very best for 2020 and that we all may make and see lots of gorgeous photos!

Note: a last remark on the 8 bits of JPG: 255 values for each primary color does not sound like a lot, but in total that gets you over 16 million different colors, so plenty of possibilities. And for the people too lazy to do the math: a 14 bit RAW image has 262,144 times as much possible colors. That gives you a lot more possibilities in shifting colors, brightness, contrast and so.